Several media outlets reported on Wednesday that the US is only days away from completing its Afghanistan “withdrawal,” but the plan involves keeping at least 650 troops in the country to guard the US embassy and help secure the Kabul airport.
One unnamed military official told CNN that the US could leave up to 1,000 troops in Afghanistan after the “formal withdrawal,” but another official insisted it wouldn’t be more than 650 troops.
The 650 number is what most outlets have reported. Initial reports said the US would leave the 650 for the embassy indefinitely, and another small force would stay until President Biden’s September 11th deadline to help Turkish troops secure the Kabul airport, which could explain the 1,000 number.
There are currently about 500 Turkish troops guarding Kabul airport, and the US wants them to stay. The two countries are working out a deal regarding the airport, but the Taliban has rejected the plan and view it as a clear violation of the US-Taliban peace deal signed in Doha last year.
According to a report from Middle East Eye, the US and Turkey reached a mutual understanding on securing the airport and are close to finalizing the deal. The US and NATO will foot the bill for Turkey to stay. In an attempt to placate the Taliban, Turkey would promise not to conduct operations outside of the airport.
The US claims its plan to keep some troops in Afghanistan as a diplomatic presence only. Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters on Tuesday that the withdrawal will end the US “combat mission” in Afghanistan. He said the US will leave “enough force posture to protect our diplomatic presence.” So far, the Pentagon has not said how many troops it plans to leave.
While the Pentagon is framing its post-withdrawal plans as merely the security of a diplomatic presence, the US will also continue providing funding and logistics to the Afghan military, fueling a proxy war. President Biden has earmarked $3.3 billion in funding for the Afghan military in the 2022 budget, an increase of $300 million from 2021.